A decade ago, I frequently blogged on the topics of creativity, innovation, and business. At the time, there was an incessant squeal in the Fortune 500 community about the need for more creativity. I provided a scientifically supported solution for that:

Get your employees drunk.

Many people have opined that drinking increases creativity, but Andrew F. Jarosz at the University of Chicago has proven it. In a study of intoxicated men, Jarosz demonstrated functional creativity (solving problems in a non-algorithmic fashion) increased substantially when the men were drunk.

Jarosz decided to perform the study after analyzing the literature on the many negative impacts drinking has on cognitive abilities. For example, drinking makes it harder to focus on routine skills, like driving a car, working on an assembly line, or pushing a button at an appropriate time. It also hampers the memorization of lists and inhibits performing algorithmic problem solving (If A, then B. If not A, then C.). But it was precisely these impacts that Jarosz theorized would result in more creativity – the drunken behavior of a short attention span.

To take effective action, we need to ignore ‘external’ factors and focus on the factors we understand. To be creative, we need to embrace the external factors and ignore those we understand.

Putting aside the tongue-in-cheek thoughts of a drunken workplace, Jarosz has provided a much deeper challenge. How do we balance the conflict between getting things done and creating new things?

This productivity-versus-creativity challenge has been addressed for decades in the literature around big business, but the topic is relatively undiscussed when it comes to new ventures. It deserves a lot more attention.

At Early Charm, when we were just a few-person operation, almost every decision required creativity and it was rare that we did the same thing twice. At around a dozen employees, we started to see the first signs of stress between our most creative people and those who were implementing better back-office practices. At forty employees, we had people in sales, production, and even research who had more structured jobs, with large portions of those jobs involving repetition.

As we continue to grow, I find that balancing productivity and creativity is a bigger and bigger challenge. Our most creative people and our most efficient people don’t always see eye-to-eye.

I’m not sure exactly what to do next. I’ll have a drink and think on it.

Author: Ken Malone
Bio: As co-Executive Officer of Early Charm, Ken Malone leads the business development efforts behind the venture studio’s more than 30 portfolio firms. He has more than 25 years of experience building and leading tech-based companies, and is actively committed to bolstering Baltimore’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.